Guest Speaker: Ms Yvonne Yon, Assistant Director: Namibia Business School
Ms Yvonne Yon began her career at the University of Namibia, in these very same buildings, as a secretary in the Faculty of Economics. In 25 years, her career trajectory has positioned her in the current role as Assistant Director of the Namibia Business School in Windhoek.
Ms Yon began started out with no formal degree and enrolled for a Bachelors of Business Administration while working and being a single mother to two young girls. Ms Yon now possesses a Diploma in Management, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Higher Education Administration from the University of London and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Maastricht School of Business, in the Netherlands.
Ms Yon has spent 25 years in higher education administration—the past seven as the Assistant Director at Namibia Business School—where she provides management and strategic direction for financial and administrative support services, including marketing, human resources, finance, facilities, IT, health & safety and risk management.
Prior to joining the Namibia Business School, she worked for, The University of Namibia, with responsibility for international programmes, hosted within the Faculty of Economics and Management Sciences, assisting in establishing relationships and liaising with international partner universities and institutions, such as African Economic Research Consortium, London University and Maastricht School of Business.
In 2013, Ms Yon was awarded the prestigious Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship. The programme brings professionals from designated countries to the United States for a year of non-degree, graduate-level study, leadership development and professional collaboration with U.S. counterparts.
The Pennsylvania State University hosted Ms Yon and nine other Humphrey fellows for the 2013-14 academic years. PennState awarded her with a Certificate in Workforce Development and she also completed a Professional Affiliation program at George Mason University, engaging in hands-on work with professional counterparts in the United States.
At George Mason, she spent time with the Director of Executive Degree Programmes, and Associate Dean, Executive Education, to learn how the School of Business promotes its executive education programs and enhances services to students and corporate clients.
Ms Yon, while in the States gave talks to classes such as the Executive EMBA, the Master of Science in Technology Management and the MS in Management of Secure Information Systems.
On the words of Ms Yvonne Yon
I would like to thank the Department of Institutional Planning at the Polytechnic for the kind invitation to come and share my experiences on change and transformation with you.
When I was approached to do the talk, my first reaction was that I don’t really have something interesting to share – there are so many other people who probably can do a fantastic speech at such an occasion – but as I digested the idea I realize that I indeed have been through a lot of change and transformation in my professional life, and while my message may not be earthshattering, I DO have a message that I’d like to share with you.
I have entitled my presentation: “Enthusiasm makes the Difference”
So let’s talk a little about the dynamics of transformation in Higher Education Institutions – As we all know the Polytechnic of Namibia will soon transform into a fully-fledged university. This is a major undertaking not only for the leadership of the institution, but for each and every employee. Recent research has adopted a micro, people-oriented focus to the study of organizational change, where the focus is on the individual employee’s behaviors and attitudes. Various Scholars have discussed the importance of commitment to the change initiative – e.g. Meyer argued that “commitment is possibly one of the most important factors involved in employees’ support for change initiatives”. So one can therefore assume that affective commitment to change will positively associate with coping with change. In reflecting where Namibia finds it-self, the sheer weight of what is expected of the newly established University of Science and Technology cannot be under-estimated. I am sure there is great concern in all of your minds about where the institution currently is, and what it could become. We all understand the global pressures on higher education institutions, coupled with the local realities such transformation is faced with - It is this complexity that needs to be recognized by all staff members.
Having made these preliminary points, I would like to move towards the role that you as PA’s and administrative staff can play in this mammoth undertaking. It is a fact that institutions that focus on the capabilities, culture and long-term performance in transformation are likelier to succeed and build the basis for lasting improvement. So, while you may not have any control over external matters, you still have control over what your own role can be and how you can contribute to the overall success of the transformation. I believe that Secretaries and Personal Assistants have the opportunity to become the voices of change because of their strategic roles within the institution. i.e. you communicate on a daily basis with staff, students and external stakeholders. I assume that the current Vision and Mission will change to suit the new status of the institution. It’s therefore important to relate your daily tasks to the new Vision and Mission of the institution - Through constant display of enthusiasm and a change in personal attitude you all can become drivers of transformation. To reach true commitment, you must begin to display a new way of operating– one must alter one’s mindset and behavior.
When the former Academy transitioned into the University of Namibia (as we know it today), it was a very scary experience for myself. I have just started working and the only thing that muddled in my mind was the concept of last in first out. At the time we did not have the opportunity where people were invited to come and speak to us about the proposed change and our respective roles in it – I however, realised very early in the process: if I want to make myself indispensable, I will have to develop awareness of the change processes and appreciate the difference between interpersonal methods, team methods and organizational methods. Without delay I took stock of my own skills and realised that I will have to improve my academic qualifications. It was extremely difficult to put this decision into action due to a number of reasons – One, I thought I was too old, I was worried about long term commitment and that I will lose out on my social life. I, however, pulled myself up on my boot-straps and enrolled first for a diploma then a post-graduate diploma and thereafter for a degree. It was by no means an easy undertaking. It took a lot of perseverance and hard work, because I had toconti-nue my day-job to financially sustain myself and my 2 daughters.
Most days during the years of study, I ended up coming home at 11h00 at night – and still have to study for tests or prepare presentations. At the end of my study period I was mentally and physically exhausted – but when I finally graduated with an MBA – I knew that I have done the right thing –because shortly thereafter, I could apply for my current position and was successful. A few years into this position, I again understood that the educational environment is not static – it constantly evolves and it requires employees to evolve with it in order to keep with global trends and best practices. Kotter considers that complacency is too high in most organisations - I Quote “Too many work without a sense of urgency, people won’t give that extra effort and will resist change initiatives”. I thought by creating short- term wins I can keep myself relevant and keep complacency down and when I saw the advert for the Hubert H Humphrey Fellowship in the newspaper, I took a chance and applied. It was almost a year later when I heard back from them. I was short-listed out of 89 applicants and had to compete with four other applicants in the final round. After a grueling interview and written tests I was convinced that I will never make it. Until I received that faithful call to let me know that I was the lucky recipient of the 2013/2014 Humphrey Fellowship.
This was the start of a whole new era in my professional life. I went to the United States where I was attached to PennState University. This was probably the steepest learning curve in my life. I had to cope with a new culture while simultaneously attend classes, workshops, do community service, internships and a million other things. This was however, a period that I could reflect on my journey and I realized that without a personal vision, enthusiasm and a strong desire to succeed, I would never had come this far. By sharing this with you, I am not suggesting that you rush out and undertake further studies, but that you do introspection of where you want to be within this transformation process and work towards that goal with enthusiasm. Never underestimate the power of your own vision – knowing the difficulty of change, some people try to manipulate events behind the scenes and avoid putting in effort and short term sacrifices, but without that it is almost impossible to gain lasting success and to make yourself visible within the process of transformation.
So, I talked about a lot of things, but want to focus a little on my topic which is “Enthusiasm makes the Difference”. When I was about to give up because the road that I chose was really difficult, I came across a book with the same title – “Enthusiasm makes the difference” by Norman V. Peale. The message of the books is that enthusiasm is a priceless quality that makes everything different. Enthusiasm offers creative solutions – it helps to turn negatives into positives and bad days into good days. It shows that you need not have a dull, routinized existence. It taught me that little goals add up.
In conclusion, there is another form of change, one perhaps more complex than transforming a Polytechnic into a University – it is the change from apathy to enthusiasm, from indifference to exiting participation. I trust that you will embark on this important journey of transformation with much enthusiasm and in the process transform yourself into whatever type of person you wish to become.